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Sony STR-DN1020 review: Sony STR-DN1020

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MSRP: $500.00
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The Good Good price. Basics nicely handled. Does no harm to HDMI video (yes, that is a virtue!).

The Bad Power output specifications don't engender much confidence. Only four HDMI outputs. Poor interface for new media.

The Bottom Line Low in cost and reasonable in performance, the Sony STR-DN1020 home-theatre receiver does a decent job on the basics. However, its USB/DLNA/internet radio/iPod offerings are hobbled by a lousy interface.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.7 Overall

Review Sections

Connections

Sony is largely standard on the connection front. As is increasingly common, S-Video has been abandoned. There are two subwoofer outputs, which Sony takes as licence to call this a "7.2-channel" receiver. It isn't; it's 7.1, because the two subwoofer outputs carry the same signal.

There is one HDMI output (supporting Audio Return Channel), which is plenty in most installations, but only four HDMI inputs — which is so 2009 — but none on the front panel. But you do get Ethernet, with USB at the front.

Set-up

Plug in the supplied calibration microphone, put it where your head would normally be and press the appropriate buttons. In an extremely short time, the unit will have calculated your system's settings, and applied them. These adjustments are not just to such things as speaker levels, distances and sizes, but also equalisation of the speakers. Oddly, this EQ can't be switched on and off later, so you should select "Custom" as the calibration mode, and then select whether or not you want EQ (and the type you want, as explained in the manual) before you start the calibration.

Sound

We're a bit reluctant to report on the power-output claims, thanks to Sony's lo-fi specification. Most brands report on the full audio bandwidth (20-20,000Hz), with distortion levels of under 0.1 per cent. Sony claims 100 watts per channel into 8 ohms at 1kHz, and 1 per cent total harmonic distortion. In surround mode, it claims 140 watts with the same criteria, except for the distortion, which is a dreadful 10 per cent.

After setting up, dig around in the menus a bit. Under Settings: Speaker, you'll find that Dynamic Range Compression has been set to "Auto". This means that some Blu-ray discs (it doesn't affect DVDs) will have their dynamic range compressed. But not all, and the results are unpredictable. It's generally best to change this to "Off".

There is a "Sound Optimiser" key on the remote that invokes a process designed to make the sound better at low-volume levels. If by "better" they mean lumpy and unnatural, then feel free to use it.

The default EQ setting was labelled "Engineer" in the Custom set-up. We thought that this was also a bit lumpy (the mid bass was rather prominent, and a touch boxy). Rerunning with "Full Flat" did the trick, producing a more neutral and natural sound.

On a middling speaker set with good overall performance, the levels able to be delivered by the receiver were good, if just a bit harsh at the highest levels.

Video

There really isn't much to say about this unit's video performance, other than that it passes through everything it is supposed to, including the frame packed format from Blu-ray 3D. It does not upscale HDMI input, although it does analog-video input if you still have such devices. The results weren't very pretty, with the composite input and 1080p output. The picture was very soft and flickery, with poor progressive scan conversion.

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